Our view: Don’t let Winona State get lost in the shuffle

May 8, 2019

When Winona State University holds a pinning ceremony in Rochester this week for 40 new nurses about to graduate with bachelor’s degrees, it will be a reminder of the importance of WSU to this community — and of Rochester’s importance to WSU.

Like most other institutions of higher education, Winona State University has experienced roughly a 10 percent decline in enrollment in recent years.

That, however, is not true for WSU’s enrollment in Rochester.

Winona State enrolls about 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students in Rochester. Four new graduate programs will launch next fall, including a master’s of social work and an education doctorate, helping to boost enrollment in Rochester by at least 10 percent.

“We’re bullish on Rochester,” Dr. Scott Olson, WSU president said last week in a meeting with the Post-Bulletin editorial board.

Students are also apparently bullish on what WSU is offering. For example, there were 60 applications for the master’s in social work program within three days of its announcement.

But how much the community at large knows about and appreciates the presence of WSU in Rochester is debatable. A short answer, in our opinion, would be “not enough.”

Granted, WSU’s profile in Rochester was raised when the school moved into the old Riverside building at Fourth Street and South Broadway. It’s a prime location at the intersection of two major streets.

However, most commuters driving by are probably unaware that WSU also holds classes at Rochester Community and Technical College, where it is building a new nursing sim lab, or that WSU’s teacher education program maintains a site at Riverside Central Elementary School.

Olson pointed out that annually about 35 percent of new teachers graduating from Winona State become teachers in Rochester public schools. In addition, the majority of nursing graduates usually begin their careers in Rochester.

Obviously, Winona State fills a need for Rochester’s major employers. Olson said there’s more to come. Additional programs will be added in future years, and later this year a major study of WSU’s facility needs in Rochester will be announced.

The university’s Winona campus is practically at “optimal capacity,” Olson said. “We’re at a pretty good size in terms of amenities there and residence hall space,” he said.

“As for Rochester,” Olson said, “the sky’s the limit.”

Those are encouraging words for a community that has long hungered for ever more higher education.

All of the institutions offering post-secondary education in Rochester deserve the community’s support. But Olson’s comments are a good reminder that Winona State should not be allowed to get lost in the shuffle.